― 33 ―

The “Jay Pays.”

“Whoroo! Ahearn's bin made a joostice uv the payce. The noo list's out, and the name of Michael O'Shannassy Ahearn's amidst thim. Whoroo! Whoroo!” O'Grady was excited. Also, the town of Harkaway was excited; moreover, the whole district of Harkaway was excited. The time had arrived to pay off old scores, and put down those varmints who had sneered and jeered at Ahearn and O'Grady, and all their friends and relations, when O'Grady had been found with half a pig in his stye, reasonably supposed to have been stolen, “seein',” as the prosecuting constable put it, “that Mister O'Grady hadn't kept a pig these two years, and the half of a pig couldn't hardly have walked there, especially from such a distance as M'Nab's, where the two halfs used to be when they was together, as a whole.”

But O'Grady and his brother-in-law, the new justice of the peace, had sworn that O'Grady, having got out of the habit of attending to a pig, had forgotten to feed the animal for two days, “and being onused to sich tratement, yer 'Onor, the one half had eaten the other half, and sure, thet's why there's after being on'y 'alf of 'im.”

They won the case; it was talked of still. Now they hoped to win many more of like kind. No wonder O'Grady and all his faction were excited. They had not moved heaven and earth to put in their new member of the Legislative Assembly for nothing. There had been a distinct understanding that one of his first official acts would be the nomination of Ahearn for appointment as a magistrate. “Seein' the distric's so much in nade av 'im,” as O'Grady put it, when at the candidate's first meeting he asked the question point blank.

For years this had been the crux of every election; for which side would the candidate, if successful, nominate justices of the peace? Did he equivocate, or endeavour to please both sides, then away with him. Harkaway politics were of the decided order.

Up to the present, O'Grady's side had not been as strong as it might be. That is to say that while his side had only fourteen justices within a radius of five miles, the other had twenty-two. It is only fair to add that a number on each side were mere figureheads. Now, with the strong man, Michael Ahearn, amongst them to stiffen them up, the whole fourteen could be relied on to act as one man.

Harkaway was an out-of-the-way sort of place, seldom visited by the local police magistrate, and never by any higher functionary of the law. Most of the cases, therefore, passed through the hands of the local justices of the peace. And Harkaway had terribly bitter factions.

  ― 34 ―

So far, almost all the verdicts had been given against the O'Grady clique. Generally, it was just that it should be so, but many thought it was only the justices.

“Whoroo! It's the turn uv the wheel!” shouted O'Grady. “Come and let us drink success to the Binch and the noo Jay Pay!”

They did so.

M'Naught, the head and front of the other side, refused to join them.

“All roight, Mister M'Naught,” said O'Grady, “we'll see you agin later.”

At which sally all his supporters laughed approvingly.

M'Naught knew what it meant, but went on his way undisturbed, and when, a few days later, he missed one of his blood mares, rode straight over to Tim O'Hara's selection and took her out of Tim's yard. He had done the same thing before without any unpleasant consequences, for the justices, as well as justice, had been on his side.

This time Tim dared him to remove the mare. She bore M'Naught's brand as plainly as she carried a tail, and Tim held no receipt for her. But that mattered not; he had Ahearn.

“Touch wan 'air uv 'er, and I'll 'ave the law uv yer,” he threatened.

M'Naught understood the cause of his new-found audacity, and treated it with scorn.

“We'll fight it,” he said, and led the mare away.

O'Hara brought an action for trespass against him. He would have added theft, but was afraid the valuation put on the mare might be high enough to take the case out of the jurisdiction of the local justices. That would settle him.

All Harkaway talked of the coming trial. At every street corner a knot of honorary magistrates discussed it, and unhesitating decided in favour of the side to which they might happen to belong. There was no question of law or justice, only numbers.

M'Naught's friends went round and saw all the twenty-one remaining justices on their side. It was a pity, they all agreed, that M'Naught would not be able, as usual, to direct them in their deliberations. More than half of them promised unconditionally to be present, and M'Naught's friends reckoned the case as good as won.

But O'Hara and his friends knew a thing worth six of that. Not only did they obtain solemn promises, almost Bible oaths, to be present from all of their side, they set to work to see that most of the other side should stay away.

O'Hara himself arranged for the absence of Brown and Gregory by the simple expedient of throwing open the gate between their respective stud paddocks, and boxing all the sheep, the night before the trial. O'Grady got a friend of his in Sydney to wire to three others that they were wanted in the city on urgent business. Two more he persuaded to go and have a look at a gold mine, just discovered, some forty odd miles away. This he did indirectly, employing a man whom they had no reason to suspect of treachery to inform them secretly of the wonderful opportunity of acquiring an easy fortune, and impress upon them that it was a case admitting of no delay.

  ― 35 ―

These little tricks accounted for seven, making the numbers equal. They must arrange for at least three more, in case of accidents. They held a consultation as to how it should be done, and finally decided to light a big fire in the brush that lay at the back of Jackson's, Dick's, and Murray's properties. Then they could easily draw attention to the smoke, and the three opposing justices, in fear of the bush fire sweeping their paddocks, would be sure to leave hot-foot for the scene. By the time they had found out what had happened, and got back to the township, the case would be settled. The schemes, carefully planned, quietly executed, were completely successful.

Each side, having made all due arrangements, rested secure in the hope of victory. An hour before the case, the only one for the day, was to begin, the hall which served for a court-house was packed.

The justices began to arrive, not in ones or twos, but in dozens. The constable looked at them in consternation, gathered up all the chairs available, and placed them around the judicial table. But still they came. The constable raced around the hall and searched wildly for more chairs. There were none. In desperation he seized a form, and, apologising profusely and perspiringly, asked the magistrates to condescend to occupy it. They did so, and overflowed.

The constable's agony intensified. He looked at them in helpless despair.

“Another form,” suggested one of them.

The constable rushed for it recklessly, and fell over Tim's yellow cattle-dog, which, like its master, was always prowling around to see what it could pick up. This time it picked up the constable, or part of him. He lay and looked back over his shoulder, his eyes bulging with fear lest the next bite should go deeper than his trousers. An onlooker came to the rescue, planting his foot in the ribs of the dog, causing him to leave in anger and distress.

The constable rose, brushed the dust off his uniform, begged pardon of the magistrates for the unseemly conduct of the dog, and planked the form down on Ahearn's great toe, the one with the bunion on it. Ahearn remarked disparagingly on his breeding, and a great silence fell upon the court.

The case began. O'Hara's thirteen, O'Grady, of course, amongst them, had turned up only one short. The other side had only eleven. Flannagan went over to Murphy's public-house and told him Tim had won. Murphy, taking the same view of the case, asked him to have a drink. Whereby Flannagan scored.

The evidence, as the witnesses would have given it had they been allowed, was plain enough. But M'Naught's supporters, having duly counted noses, were sparring for time to gather in some more of their own. O'Grady and his twelve could not sit like dummies, and let it appear as though the other side had a monopoly of all the legal knowledge in Harkaway. Their vanity on this point caused them to assist their opponents, and when M'Naught's messengers returned one after another with the story of how his supporters had been tricked and led away, the fight grew fierce. Carlton took exception to a leading question asked by Ahearn, and for half an hour or more the learned lights discussed the point, or as near it as they could get. When that was settled M'Naught's side raised another. So the battle raged.

  ― 36 ―

Ahearn tried another question. “Had yer bin thavin' the mayre, yer'd not have hed her in yer yarrd, wud yer, now?” he asked O'Hara.

The listeners in the court laughed audibly. Many of them had a shrewd suspicion that Ahearn knew better than that how to dispose of stolen stock.

“Silence!” roared the constable. The laughter inside the room died away, and someone guffawed just outside.

“Constable,” said O'Grady, “go and remove the donkey that's braying on the footpath.”

The constable looked to the Bench as a whole, to see if he should carry out the command, but the Bench was already absorbed in a fresh “pint.” Carlton had again objected to Ahearn's line of questioning.

“How does the magistrate know what the accused would do with stolen stock, or what should be done with stolen stock?” he asked.

Again the listeners laughed.

“And whol shouldn't I know,” asked Ahearn, indignantly.

“Well, perhaps you do,” retorted Carlton, with asperity, having gained his object.

After that Ahearn asked no more questions. He did not even interfere with Carlton when he asked some of an even more suggestive character.

Someone jogged Michael up, and assured him his reputation was at stake. But Michael Ahearn was not to be beaten as easily as that.

“Hught!” he said, “can't yer be seein' thet it's our worrk to git the trial over as soon as possible, before any uv their min have time to git back?”

The word was passed round, and promptly acted upon, establishing Ahearn's reputation more firmly than ever.

But already the case had been somewhat protracted, and Brown and Gregory having straightened up their stock in a temporary way, hastened to the scene of action. Their arrival made the numbers equal, and caused great consternation amongst their opponents, who immediately despatched a messenger for their only remaining supporter.

The two new arrivals were handed notes of the evidence. Gregory could not read a line.

But that did not matter; he knew how to vote, as it was generally termed in Harkaway. He held the paper upside down, and appeared to devour its contents with eager interest. As a matter of fact, his eye was on Ahearn, and he was wondering what had happened to him. To those who had heard, and been endeavouring to act upon Ahearn's wisdom, he appeared to be merely holding himself in check; to Gregory he looked fairly squashed. So much depends on one's point of view in these things.

There was a disturbance outside. The messenger sent by O'Grady had returned without his man, but evidently with something to say. O'Grady went out to see him.

“Is Quinn coming?” he asked, anxiously.

“Naw,” answered the messenger, “he ain't.”

“Ain't coming! Why not?” exclaimed O'Grady.

Their voices floated into the room, and the constable glanced uneasily at the door. The messenger did not reply.

  ― 37 ―

“Yer sure yer told him?” asked O'Grady, fiercely.

“Course I did. Course I told 'im.”

“Then why can't he come?” demanded O'Grady.

The whole Bench waited to hear the reply.

“'E's fakin' the brand on M'Naught's chestnut 'orse, if yer must know,” it came, angrily.

M'Naught jumped as if he had been struck, but did not move out.

O'Grady looked annoyed. “Might er picked another day to do that,” he said sullenly, and stumped back to his place on the Bench.

M'Naught's brother looked at his fellow justices Questioningly.

“Better go” whispered one. “It's just on lunch-time. We'll keep the case going till you get back, and you'll catch him red-handed.”

M'Naught's brother left, and did so. But that is another story.

Resuming after luncheon adjournment, Brown rose to the occasion, dragging the case out in masterly fashion. He asked one of the witnesses as to the possibility or otherwise of tracking the mare in question. No doubt had been raised as to the identity of the animal. Brown considered it necessary to place it beyond dispute, or said so.

His opponents, and even some of his own side, before they saw the drift of his doings, objected to his questions. Whereupon he stated definitely and with decision that he was not satisfied as to the identity of the mare. The more sanguine, or perhaps foolish, ones on O'Hara's side began to consider the possibility of gaining one of the enemy over.

But Brown was a deep customer.

“You are quite sure the mare could not be tracked?” he asked.

“Quite sure,” answered the witness. “Yer might as well try and track on that ther floor.” Brown looked at the floor thoughtfully for a few seconds.

“And are you sure it would be impossible to follow a track there?” he asked.

“I'd like ter see it done,” replied the witness, confidently.

Brown turned to his fellow magistrates. “I shall show the worthlessness of this witness,” he said, and stepped gravely out on to the floor.

Stooping down with some dignity, he drew a tracing with his finger in the dust that lay there. Straightening up, he looked soberly at the Bench. “A blind man could feel it with a stick,” he said.

The Bench stared at Brown, at the tracing on the floor, and at its collective self. This was a new procedure altogether. The Bench was non-plussed.

Ahearn took the objection that such a proceeding had no precedent, and could not be received. The point was argued at length, M'Naught's side being unanimous that it should be allowed, O'Grady's that it could not. It looked as though the latter must win, when Jackson, Dick, and Murray raced up to the court-house, their horses a lather of sweat, and took their places on the bench. Wild with resentment at the trick which had been played upon them, they argued fiercely in favour of Brown. Brown won.

He drew another tracing on the floor with great deliberation and dignity. Some of the justices said they could follow it, others swore they could not.

  ― 38 ―
Brown invited them all on to the floor to inspect at closer range. First one, and then another, dribbled down, till presently almost the whole number was gathered on the floor.

Ahearn swore he could not see the tracing.

Brown remarked that he must be getting shortsighted very suddenly, and suggested that he should go down on all fours, the way pigs generally look at things.

Ahearn missed the insinuation, and did as suggested.

Tim's yellow cattle-dog had returned to see how things were going. Having entered the room, he wandered round in search of something to do. Seeing Ahearn in that curious position, he found his object. He also found a soft and fleshy part of Ahearn.

Ahearn rose with a yell, and the dog, seeing trouble ahead, made for the door.

For the remainder of the trial Ahearn remained standing.

M'Naught's brother returned, having fulfilled his mission. It suddenly occurred to both sides that further evidence was unnecessary, the opposing justices being sixteen to thirteen against O'Hara. Judgment was given in favour of M'Naught.